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Stems cells put him back on his feet - Retired educator’s own cells were used to save his leg

Date: August 30, 2006

A year ago, Tom Van Lieshout’s prognosis was that he might lose his right leg, but after an experimental procedure involving his stem cells, he’s golfing and jogging on a regular basis.

Tom Van Lieshout of Sturgeon Bay is a retired educator who has suffered from peripheral vascular disease since 1985. Tom has had six bypass procedures on his left leg in the last 20 years. Surgeons removed veins from his legs and other areas and used them to “bypass” and re-route blood around closed arteries.

But last year, he began experiencing such extreme pain on his right leg after walking just a few yards, he would have to sit down and rest from the pain. Doctors told Van Lieshout that he had two options: Live with the pain or have his right leg removed.

Tom considered himself lucky when he discovered he had a third choice. He learned about adult stem cell research being conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He knew nothing about the research but had his vascular surgeon make an appointment for him to participate in the experimental procedure. Health care providers transplanted stem cells from Van Lieshout’s own bone marrow. Using available technology, they identified the stem cells associated with arterial growth from the more than one million cells extracted in two cups of blood. “There were 25 of them,” Van Lieshout said. “They injected the 25 in my calf and in my thigh. I was on a blood thinner; they had to watch for blood clots. They had to watch for everything.”

“This is happening,” Van Lieshout said. “It’s not science fiction. Adult stem cells are on the verge of treating so many diseases from Alzheimer's to diabetes to heart disease to stroke to cancer. And they are right on the cutting edge. They are doing it. They are having success.”

“I will not get into a moral issue or a political issue,” Van Lieshout said. All I know is, from a medical standpoint and from a physical standpoint, I know what it did for me. It gave me a new life.” When the physicians told Van Lieshout they had to amputate his leg, “I was ready to give up.” Instead of giving up, he searched for information regarding a television news story he had seen concerning stem cell research being conducted on arterial regeneration in legs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

After his six-month checkup on Aug. 17, the blood flow to Van Lieshout’s leg has improved and grown stronger. “In the six-month evaluation, I walked 15 minutes at a 16-degree elevation,” Van Lieshout said. “We are hopeful the improvement will continue over the span of one year. The pulse in my foot has also shown improvement.” Van Lieshout believes he is one of just seven people in the world who have participated in an experimental procedure of this kind. Because of the experimental nature of his procedure, Van Lieshout¹s entire hospital stay was not covered by Medicare. He personally paid $10,000 for his care. “That's the total cost to be able to walk,” Van Lieshout said. “I cannot praise this enough. My right leg is now almost better than the left leg. And when I talk about this, it almost takes my breath away because that’s the feeling I have for it. It’s awesome.”

“An adult stem cell is an undifferentiated cell found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ. The stem cell can renew itself and differentiate to yield the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found”, according to the NIH Web site.

Scientists at NIH have found adult stem cells in many more tissues than they once thought possible and certain cells under the right conditions seem to have the ability to differentiate into a number of different cell types. If the differentiation of adult stem calls can be controlled in laboratory, NIH stated, the cells may become the basis for therapies for many common diseases.

In February, the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine started a clinical trial using stem cell injections as treatment to severe peripheral artery disease. In the clinical trail at IU, bone marrow from the patient¹s hip was extracted while the patient was under a general anesthetic, according to the Stem Cell Research Foundation.

Visit to get information on stem cell research.
Information regarding adult stem cells can be found at Additional information can be found in the archives of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for June 26, 2005; in a 2004 report by the Public Broadcasting System at and on the
National Institutes of Health web site at

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